Hassan Firouzabadi (Fars, October 16, 2016).
Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC (Tasnim, October 18, 2016).
Mohammad-Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij (Mehr, October 10, 2016).
Yahya Rahim Safavi (Asr-e Iran, October 17, 2016)
Saeed Bayazizadeh, an Iranian cleric killed in Syria (IRGC-affiliated Telegram channel, October 14, 2016).
Ali Shamkhani meets with Alexander Lavrentiev (Tasnim, October 10, 2016)
The outgoing Iranian ambassador to Syria bids farewell (ILNA, October 14, 2016).
Soleimani and senior Iraqi Shi'ites militiamen (ABNA, October 16, 2016)
Sheikh Akram al-Ka'bi meets with Ali-Akbar Velayati during a visit to Tehran (Tasnim, September 1, 2016).
Anti-Saudi Arabia cartoon published after the attack in Yemen (Fars, October 10, 2016).
- Hassan Firouzabadi, whose command of the Iranian forces ended this past June and who is currently a senior military advisor to the supreme leader, denied to the Fars news agency on October 16 that Iran meddled in the internal affairs of regional states. He said Iran did not meddle in regional politics and absolutely was not planning to expand its control over territories belonging to other states. The presence of Iranian advisors in Iraq and Syria and Iran's support for Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon were, he claimed, a manifestation of its revolutionary and religious ideology, based on the need to defend Muslims and other oppressed peoples around the globe.
- Hassan Firouzabadi said the concept of "exporting the revolution" referred to its ideological sense, not a physical or materialistic sense. Iran, he claimed, supported groups wishing to disseminate the ideals of revolutionary Islam in their own countries, and that should not pose a problem. He claimed that when rulers of regional states oppressed groups or individuals supporting that ideology, for example, when clerics were arrested as they had been in Saudi Arabia, Iran had to stand up for the groups or individuals and give them all the aid and support it could.
- Regarding Iran's involvement in Iraq and Syria, he reiterated the Iranian position that the presence of advisors was at the governments' requests. He said Iraq had asked Iran for support, and Iran was duty-bound to provide it because most Iraqis were Shi'ites. When ISIS attacked Iraq and threatened to take control of Baghdad, Iran had to provide the Iraqi government with the equipment and advisors it had requested. That did not mean Iran was meddling in Iraq's internal affairs, rather, it was a response to a request from Iraq's legitimate government and an expression of friendship, brotherhood and bilateral cooperation. Iran did the same for the Syrian government, which asked Iran for aid in fighting the terrorist groups supported by the United States and its regional allies, that were attacking the central government in Damascus.
- Regarding the situation in Yemen, he said Iran did not have a presence and had not deployed advisors to Yemen. After the Saudi Arabian attack, he claimed, Iran had provided political support for the revolutionaries in Yemen who represented the legitimate government and had sent humanitarian aid. He also claimed Iran's support of the oppressed Shi'ites in Bahrain was not intervention in its domestic affairs because Iran had no intention of taking over territories in Bahrain, only in supporting civil rights.
- He also claimed Iran was not militarily involved in Palestine, even though that was its top priority. All Iran did was send advisors to the Gaza Strip, provide guidance and technology, medical attention for the wounded and support for the Palestinians wanting to liberate their land from the [so-called Israeli] occupation.
- Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the IRGC, speaking at a conference in the northern part of Khorasan Province on October 18, said that despite the efforts of its enemies, Iran had become a world power by virtue of the firm stance of its citizens and fighters. He said Iran's enemies, especially the United States, had not achieved their goals in Syria and Iraq and knew that only Iran could solve Syria's problems and end its ongoing war. He added that the Zionists wanted to expand their control from the Nile to the Euphrates, but the establishment of Hezbollah in south Lebanon had foiled their plans. Not only had the Zionists been forced to withdraw from south Lebanon, he said, but they had to cope with many internal problems and the fear that was growing daily in the hearts of the Jews (Fars and Tasnim, October 18, 2016).
- Basij commander Mohammad-Reza Naqdi said Palestine was in the hands of "usurpers" and it was Iran's duty to fight for its liberation. At a conference held to mark the anniversary of the death of senior IRGC official Hossein Hamedani, killed in Syria last year, Naqdi said that it was the duty of every Muslim to fight for the liberation of occupied Muslim lands. Regarding the Iranian presence in Syria, he said some people asked why the presence of Iranian military forces was necessary. The answer, he said, was that if Iran did not fight in Syria, the terrorists would attack its borders and it would be forced to fight them in Hamedan and Kermanshah Provinces. In addition, he said, Iran was responsible for defending Muslims, and all the Iranian fighters operating against the terrorists in Iraq and Syria hoped to die as martyrs (Asr-e Iran, October 10, 2016).
- Yahya Rahim Safavi, former IRGC commander and currently a senior military advisor to the supreme leader, said that the American occupations of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) benefitted Iran because its two main enemies, the Taliban in the east and the Baath regime in the west, had been destroyed, and that improved Iran's political balance.
- Speaking at an international conference on geopolitical crises in the Muslim world, he said that the partition of some of the states in the region, such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, was possible and that would serve the interests of Saudi Arabia and the United States. He added that one of the objectives of the foreign policy of the West and some of the regional states, among them Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, was to change the regime in Syria and impose limitations on Hezbollah in Lebanon to increase regional insecurity and damage Iran's geopolitical position.
- He said he hoped the cooperation between Iran, Russia, Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah in Syria and Iraq would bear the fruits desired by Iran, which would be victorious in Iraq and Syria and then be able to successfully fill its regional role (Asr-e Iran, October 17, 2016).
- Hossein Amir Abdollahian, advisor to the speaker of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament) on international affairs, said Iran would continue its strong support for Syria and the regional "resistance front." At a religious ceremony held for the Shi'ite holiday of Ashura, he said that adherence to the ideology of the Shi'ite imams would bring victory to regional nations, especially to their brothers in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, in the fight against terrorism and Zionism. He also said that without a doubt, the "illegitimate regime of Israel" would be wiped off the map of the Middle East and that Jerusalem would be "liberated" (Mehr, October 14, 2016).
- Abbas Araghchi, deputy Iranian foreign minister for international affairs, rejected the statement made by American Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that Iran's policies regarding Syria and Hezbollah were blocking efforts to lift the restrictions placed on Iranian banks by the United States in accordance with the nuclear agreement. He claimed that during the negotiations Iran had stressed that regional and security issues, as well as issues regarding missiles, could not be negotiated. He said Kerry was merely making excuses for the United States' unwillingness to implement its commitments to the nuclear agreement (Mehr, October 17, 2016).
- Masoud Jazayeri, Iranian deputy chief of staff, also criticized John Kerry, claiming that the American regional presence was a "cancerous tumor" and the only way to cure it was for the United States to leave the Middle East. He said that if the United States wanted to extricate itself from its Middle Eastern dead end, it had to recognize its strategic mistakes, take responsibility for its thousands of criminal acts, and leave the region (Tasnim, October 16, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in Syria and Lebanon
- Saeed Bayazizadeh, a 22 year-old Iranian cleric from Kerman Province, was killed in Syria on October 14, 2016.
- On October 10, 2016, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, met with Alexander Lavrentiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy, to discuss developments in Syria. Shamkhani said that wiping out terrorism in Syria was a top priority, to be followed by paving the way for secure elections. He stressed the need to strengthen cooperation between Iran, Russia, Syria and the "resistance front" in the fight against terrorism and its supporters (Tasnim, October 10, 2016).
- As part of the ongoing Iranian-Russian consultations regarding Syria, foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, held two phone calls (on October 11 and 13) to discuss the Syrian crisis. Both emphasized the need to increase international efforts to find a political resolution to the Syrian crisis (Asr-e Iran, October 12; Fars, October 13, 2016)
- Rasoul Sanaei Rad, political deputy to the commander of the IRGC, said that many volunteers were pressuring the IRGC to be allowed to fight in Syria, and that not all could be accepted. He said that all IRGC fighters deployed to Syria were volunteers and that the regular army and the Basij were also deploying volunteers (Fararu, October 12, 2016)
- Last week Mohammad-Reza Raouf-Sheibani completed his term as Iranian ambassador to Syria, after serving for five years. At a farewell meeting with Syrian Prime Minister Imad Mohammad Deeb Khamis, also attended by Syria's ministers of oil and economics, Khamis thanked Sheibani for his efforts to improve cooperation between the two countries. Sheibani praised the strategic collaboration between Iran and Syria (Mehr, October 14, 2016). Sheibani will apparently be replaced by Hossein Sheikholeslam, who was Iranian ambassador to Syria between 1998 and 2003, and who recently ended his role as foreign policy to the speaker of the Majlis and was appointed advisor to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iranian Intervention in Iraq Iranian Intervention in Yemen
- Four Iranians were killed in an ISIS suicide bombing attack on October 21, 2016, at a power station north of the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. In addition to the Iranians, at least 16 power plant workers were killed (Fars, October 21, 2016).
- Iran welcomed the launch of the campaign to liberate Mosul from ISIS. Bahram Qasemi, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said Iran supported and would be party to any serious fight against regional terrorism, especially in neighboring countries. He said Iran respected Iraq's territorial integrity and national sovereignty and therefore supported every action taken by the Iraqi government to expel the terrorists. He said Iran would stand by the Iraqi people and government until complete liberation and the restoration of stability. Iran, he said, called on the countries involved in the fight against ISIS to take resolute action against the terrorists (Fars, October 17, 2016).
- As in the campaigns to liberate Ramadi and Fallujah, since the start of the campaign to liberate Mosul the Iran media have given prominence to the Iraqi Shi'ite militias operating under the aegis of the IRGC, and at the same time have played down the importance of the involvement of the United States and the international coalition fighting ISIS. On October 16 the Iranian media released a picture of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, with Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iraqi Shi'ite militias, and other Shi'ite militia commanders. It is not clear where or when the picture was taken.
- Ali-Akbar Velayati, advisor to the Iranian supreme leader for international affairs, said Iran was not directly involved in the campaign for Mosul. Meeting with the deputy foreign minister of Brazil he said that when requested, Iran had always provided advice for the Iraqi government but was in no way involved in Iraq's internal affairs. He said no foreign country had the right to become involved in the campaign to liberate Mosul (ISNA, October 19, 2016).
- Sheikh Akram al-Ka'bi, secretary general of the Iraqi Shi'ite militias, the al-Nujaba movement, which operates on the fighting fronts both in Iraq and Syria, said that Iran was Iraq's main strategic partner and ally. He said he had recently visited Tehran to coordinate positions with senior Iranian officials regarding regional military and security developments and to examine ways of fighting terrorism. He added that the Iranian advisors in Iraq played an important role on the fighting front (Tasnim, October 13, 2016).
- On October 18, 2016, Seyyed Hamed Jazayeri, commander of the Iraqi Shi'ite militias' 18th Brigade, told the Fars news agency that he greatly esteemed Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, calling him "a factory for the manufacture of Iraqi men." Jazayeri said Soleimani's presence in Iraq and Syria illustrated the concept of "one Islamic nation." He said Iran was training Shi'ite militias in Iraqi territory because it would not be simple to move thousands of fighters out of Iraq. He added that the presence of senior Iranian commanders and advisors in Iraq was vital for the establishment of the Shi'ite militias and that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was the leader of the entire Islamic nation and not just of Iran.
- Iran strongly condemned the Saudi aerial attack on a packed funeral hall in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, on October 8, 2016, which killed more than 140 mourners and wounded more than 500. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned Saudi Arabia for "the gratuitous slaughter of women and children during the holy Muslim month of Muharram" (Press TV, October 11, 2016). Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sent a communiqué to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemning the Saudi attack and proposing that the Iranian Red Crescent sent humanitarian aid to Yemen (Press TV, October 10, 2016).
- Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC air force, accused the United States and Israel of having been directly involved in the attack by providing intelligence (Tasnim, October 10, 2016).
- On October 16, 2016, Hojjat-ul-Islam Ali Saidi, representative of the supreme leader to the IRGC, said in an interview with the IMNA news agency that the conditions in Yemen did not necessitate an IRGC presence. He said the IRGC had not been asked to provide aid and did not have plans to operate in Yemen. He said the Yemeni people and the Ansarallah movement (the Shi'ite Houthis) could respond to the "crimes" committed by the Saudi regime. He seconded the remarks of Hassan Firouzabadi, senior military advisor to the supreme leader, who, as noted, also said Iran did not have a presence in Yemen.
- Iran also denied American military claims about possible Iranian involvement in missiles fired by Shi'ite Houthis at American naval vessels in the Red Sea. Bahram Qasemi, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said the claims had no basis in fact, and it would be preferable for the American military forces to work to stop the massacre in Yemen carried out by their Saudi Arabian allies (IRNA, October 20, 2016).
Iranian Intervention in the Palestinian Arena
- Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security, said Iran would continue providing the Palestinians with weapons. He said weapons were supplied to "Palestinian resistance groups" according to directives from the highest political level in Iran to defend the Palestinians and increase their ability to defend themselves from "the attacks of the Zionist regime" (Mehr, October 21, 2016).
[*]Spotlight on Iran is an Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center bulletin illuminating Iran's activities to establish its influence in the Middle East and beyond. It is based on reports in the Iranian media and written for the ITIC by Dr. Raz Zimmt, an expert on Iran's politics, society, foreign policy and social networks.